On June 6 and 7, over 250 parents, professionals, employers and individuals met at the Markin MacPhail Centre at Canada Olympic Park to discuss how to create more job opportunities for people with Autism.  People heard over and over again “there is no downside to hiring people with disabilities!” Whether it was Randy Lewis, former Senior Vice President of Walgreens or Mark Wafer of Tim Horton’s or Rob Langford, from London Drugs in Calgary, the message was always the same from the employer’s side “hiring people with Autism will transform your workplace culture for the better. All employees will become more motivated, more productive and more team oriented.” While the conference was focused on Autism and jobs, the discussion was applicable to all types of disabilities and how as a society Canada is missing out by not creating a more inclusive workplace culture.

This message is even more critical to Calgary and Alberta employers who are facing a labour shortage.  The Ability Hub and its partners would like to work with employers to identify opportunities to engage this “hidden workforce” that exists within our community. We are not looking for charity; we are looking at how we can improve your bottom line while improving the quality of life for thousands of Albertans.

Wafer was perhaps the most direct in his comments to other employers about hiring individuals who are differently abled saying, “stop studying best practices of other businesses, stop developing implementation plans and just do it. You won’t regret it!”  Based on his experience with six Tim Horton franchises, Wafer stated his stores are more profitable than others, largely due to the low rate of staff turnover, adding the low rate of turnover at his franchises is for all employees, not just those with Autism and other disabilities.  From an operational perspective, Wafer shared that he has never made a worker’s compensation claim for any disabled employees and that they are just as productive as any of his workers.  From Wafer’s perspective “hiring people with disabilities is an economic decision not a social issue, as hiring the disabled makes his business more profitable.”

Lewis was just as passionate with his message to employers that hiring individuals with disabilities is a good economic decision.  During his time at Walgreens he was instrumental in developing initiatives that now employ over 1,000 persons with disabilities in their warehouse distribution centres.  His key message was that disabled employees must and can be held to the same work standards and earn the same pay as other workers.

Closer to home Rob Langford from London Drugs, Calgary, echoed the comments of Wafer and Lewis that employing young adults with a diagnosis of Autism has helped him find valued employees in a tight labour market.  He stressed the importance of working with service providers like The Ability Hub and Society for Treatment of Autism (Calgary) to ensure the success of hiring Autistic individuals.

On Friday, the audience heard compelling stories from a diversity of existing employers of the disabled  like Bayer CropScience in Regina and Monarch Café in Toronto, as well as several who are about to initiate hiring practices focused on the disabled – Canada Safeway (Calgary), Semperical (San Jose) and Meticulon Consulting (Calgary).  It is worth noting these jobs span a variety of industries including distribution centers, retail, IT, food and beverage.

Indeed, Wafer who spoke three times at the conference is an amazing advocate for employing the disabled and as such it is appropriate to give him the last word.  In his summary remarks, Wafer spoke from the heart saying “social services agencies can’t fix this” we need more “Employer Champions” i.e. employers who are prepared to share with other employers the economic benefits of developing an inclusive workplace which includes the disabled.  From his perspective, it is difficult for social agencies to lobby employers as they are viewed as having a hidden agenda.  Unfortunately, too often it is only when another employer tells management that “there is no downside to hiring the disabled” that it is believed.

Consequently, one of the key action items for The Ability Hub and our partners in Calgary, Alberta and across Canada is to identify “Employer Champions for Autism Employment” in various industry sectors. We will be adopting Wafer’s mantra, “It’s not charity, it’s just good business!”

Tom Collins
President
The Ability Hub

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